Rannie Gillis was born of Celtic parents in North Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, N.S., where the ancient Celtic language is still spoken. He grew up immersed in the finest traditions of Celtic music, his father, Ambrose, played the violin and his mother, Mary, is well known as a Celtic piano player. Ceilidhs were a frequent occurrence at their home. As well, Rannie studied Celtic history, literature and Gaelic at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., winning the coveted Angus L. MacDonald award for Celtic studies.
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